One of our biggest projects this week was revamping the mission’s language learning program.
The language program, as it has existed in the past, is broken down into phases of study. In Phase 1, missionaries learn essential vocab, phrases, and grammar for missionary work. In Phase 2, they learn common street vocabulary and useful words for general communication. In Phase 3, they learn how to read and write about 3,000 characters from the Book of Mormon. Each phase has a test which the missionary must pass to advance.
When we were selecting proofreaders for the Old Testament, Elder Smith and I realized that only six people in the mission, ourselves included, had passed Phase 3. The writing portion of the exam was too intimidating and difficult for most missionaries. Furthermore, many missionaries idled many months on Phase 1 without advancing.
First, we printed Phase 1 flashcards. This should make passing off Phase 1 more approachable since it adds a clear method of memorization and simplifies the phase materials, which were traditionally very unfathomable (large excerpts from Preach my Gospel, with little direction on what to actually memorize).
Next, we made Phase 3 easier. Many of the characters in the Book of Mormon are not very useful for the average missionary to write, unless he or she must frequently use formal written Chinese to describe vast scenes of ancient warfare. So, we replaced the random character-writing section of the Phase 3 test with a prompt-writing portion, where the missionary will read useful missionary written material (e.g. a thank-you note to a member) in English and write it in Chinese.
Of course, we didn’t want to destroy the feeling of high-tier accomplishment, and we wanted to give missionaries who pass off Phase 3 something to keep working on. So, we devised an intimidating final boss for the phase system: 造詣深厚 ["profound attainments"], a rigorous examination to challenge the most skilled Chinese learner. This test material includes a character-writing section, which draws from 5,000 most common Chinese characters (including characters with meanings such as "name of a river in western Hunan that flows into Dongting lake" and "to die in prison from cold and hunger"). Following the character portion of the test is an idioms examination, which draws from 65 of the most common (and actually useful) Chinese idioms. This portion of the test provides sentences in Chinese with the idioms replaced with blanks, and the examinee must match the sentences with their corresponding idioms. The last of the three sections is a reading comprehension test, where missionaries must read a randomly-selected article from the Liahona Church magazine in Chinese and then write short answers to comprehension questions in Chinese characters.
Also, the pass threshold is 80%. It’s a really, really challenging test. Probably no more than three to five missionaries in the mission will have achieved this level at any one point in time.
To provide greater incentive, I thought of a motivating reward system. Missionaries always wear reflective vests when riding their bikes after dark. These are usually yellow. I looked online and found a supplier of orange, green, blue, and red reflective vests. I figured that these vests could become a kind of rank symbol for Chinese achievement. Here’s the system Elder Smith and I came up with:
When a missionary comes to Taiwan, he or she will begin with the standard yellow belt.
Upon passing Phase 1, he or she will have the privilege of wearing the orange belt.
Upon passing Phase 2, he or she will have the privilege of wearing the green belt.
Upon passing Phase 3, he or she will have the privilege of wearing the blue belt.
Upon passing 造詣深厚, he or she will have the rare honor of wearing the red belt.
I showed off the new reflective belt colors at the Mission Leadership Council meeting. I can already tell people are motivated out of their minds by the pretty colors.
For P-day last week, Elder Smith and I went on a pilgrimage via subway to our homeland: 中和 [Zhonghe]. When he was born, Elder Smith took my place in 中和 as Elder Montierth’s companion, so we share a common land of ancestry.
In 中和, we basically just walked around, hopped through all of the office supply stores, and checked out the wares. I bought a whole bunch of sick door signs and stickers with Chinese instructions on them (and some English; one cryptically reads "Do not in without guest").
We even saw some Mormons when we were there. We told them to go back to Utah.